No One Is a More Powerful Storyteller Than We Are

How exhilarating, how sobering, to even entertain the possibility that how we define our world creates our world. What power we have.

Steve Roberts color photo: stone sculpture in bright winter sun: large bird being
Imagine being able to cause a packed auditorium of adolescents to sit stark still with their mouth open for an hour.  My friend Odds Bodkin can do that.  Odds is a master storyteller, able to mesmerize just about anybody whose imagination is open to even a little adventure. 

At heart, a good storyteller is someone who helps us explore life’s most important questions.  Stuff like what’s going on, who am I, and how would I know a healthy life if I saw one?  Artists with blazing gifts like Odds Bodkin, along with our favorite teachers, saints and those random screwballs who seem to drop by from outer space to light up our heart, help us engage those questions from a distinct and memorable perspective.  But the most important storyteller in our life, the only one who really matters, is us.  Ultimately, we create the stories that answer those questions for ourselves, and thus define our life, our happiness, our sense of place in the world.

In fact, so far as I can tell, making up and telling stories is all we humans do.

How so?

What are you wearing right this minute?  Who is the kindest person you’ve ever met?   Why do you stay in a marriage that drains your soul?  How was dinner?  Our answers to these and every other question we address over the course of our life are based on two things: 1) our experience, and 2) our interpretation of that experience. 

A kindly college professor of mine introduced me to the Christian notion that the consequence of Original Sin is having to see the world through our own eyes, as opposed to seeing it through the omniscient eye of God.  One needn’t embrace Christianity or Original Sin to appreciate that we taste that burger, hear that Beethoven, and smell that newborn baby only with our own senses.

Not only is our experience the only experience we have, only we decide what that experience means to us.  Even if we choose to believe “the gospel of what’s what according to whomever,” it’s we who are doing the choosing.  There may be no greater human power than the power of choice.  As the savvy baseball umpire says, “Some may be balls and some may be strikes, but until I call them, they ain’t nothing.”

Every word we’re reading here, every form of expression from mouth or hand or foot or face, every deliberate wiggle of our booty, every thought and feeling we broadcast inwardly or outwardly––is the result of how we interpret our experience.  Which is to say, a story. 

How exhilarating, how sobering, to even entertain the possibility that how we define our world creates our world.  What power we have. 

That power takes us south, however, the minute we start believing that our story is more than our interpretation of our experience––and that it is (drum roll, please) the Truth.  Especially the Truth that leads to fingers pointed anywhere. 

In the presence of master storytellers like Odds Bodkin, we may find ourselves sitting stark still with our mouth open for an hour, but it’s not them who make us joyful or spiteful or peaceful or hard.  We’re the only storyteller who can do that. 


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"I honor that we are killing the earth for the same reason I consider being an alcoholic a privilege: it is a doorway to the profound self-understanding required to make truly healthy choices."

The Essay: Honoring the Killing of the Earth